Posts Tagged ‘Business Planning’


How to Get Customers to Buy from Your Facebook Page

12-19 Facebook sales  smallMillions of small businesses have Facebook pages, but most have no idea how to use them to make sales. The page may have hundreds, maybe even thousands of “likes”, but without sales to match, it is not very valuable.

How can a small business turn virtual “likes” turn into real purchases? Here is where to start:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Post about Products and Services

Facebook is primarily about engaging with customers and forming a relationship with them by posting educating articles, photos and videos that relate to the company’s brand.  However, no business can expect to make sales if they never post about their actual products and services. Don’t always feel the need to disguise a sales pitch. Sometimes a direct message is the best way to catch a prospect’s attention and convert a sale.

2. Tell a Fun Story

Tell a story that includes the product. Connecting a company’s product or service to “fun” will always get more engagement. The best example is the BlendTec’s “Will It Blend” series. It’s not only funny, but it made people want to buy the blender. Post a preview of the story on the Facebook page, and link it to the full version on the website to make purchase conversion simpler.

3. Connect Online and In-store Activities

An integrated approach to online and offline marketing will drive likes and engagement as well as more visits to a physical store location. These types of posts can influence fans and consumers at the beginning of their purchasing cycle. Make sure what is featured in the store for this month is reflected on social media. Make parallel online announcements when sales on products and discounts are offered in-store

4. Offer Exclusive Deals to Facebook Fans

Another way to encourage purchase activity is to provide products that are available exclusively to Facebook fans. This could include special limited editions or new product launches that are offered to them first.

5. Offer a Subscription Tab

Add a tab on the company’s page that makes a free offer if the visitor “likes” the page and signs up for a mailing list. This way, that Facebook friend can be converted to an email address which can be marketed to through traditional online campaigns.

6. Learn from Facebook Insights

Small businesses need to learn about who visits their page and which content is most popular.  Use the “Insights” tab of the company’s Facebook page on a regular basis. Insights makes it easy to monitor what’s working and what’s not effective. It provides information on the people who like the page and are engaged with the posts. It also enables the tracking of competitive pages for comparison on a weekly basis.

7. Provide an Incentive for Fans to Share Their Experiences

According to Hubspot, ninety percent of people on social media trust and believe recommendations from both strangers and friends. Harness this power by encouraging fans to submit photos with their newly purchased products along with reviews, advice and where to find it. Spark discussions between customers about the service they received.  Use discounts or bonuses to customers who post on Facebook after their purchase.

Companies can also use traditional Facebook advertising to boost posts for increased customer engagement.

What tactics does your business use to convert Facebook “likes” to purchases?


5 Tax To-Dos to Wrap Up Before Year’s End

12-17 Business-Taxes smallThis time of year zooms by, and before you know it, it will be January. Waiting until then to get your business tax affairs in order can put you in a time crunch at the start of the year, so get started now to ensure you’re ready for 2015. Here are five things you can do now to ensure you get off to a great start on New Year’s.

1. Make Sure Your Corporation is Compliant

If you’re incorporated, it’s imperative that you remain compliant. That means you’ll need to file your Statement of Information and update any information that has changed in the last year for your corporation. You should receive notification of when your paperwork is due, but it’s a wise idea to keep that due date on your calendar to ensure you don’t miss it.

2. Pull Together Your Accounting Records

If you are one of those business owners who had been putting off doing financial statements all year, you are out of time. In addition to your receipts, you also want to make sure you have all your invoices, bank statements, credit card statements, and your records from anyone you pay online pulled together so that a bookkeeper or tax professional can help you get you accounting records in order.

3. Prepare Your Profit and Loss Statement

While you’ll need to wait until the year has ended to actually run your profit and loss statement for tax purposes, you can start the preparation by logging into your accounting software and making sure all your expenses are appropriately categorized. Match them up to tax categories to ensure that, come tax time, it’s easier to get a clear picture of what you’ve spent and what you’ve earned.

4. Examine Your Budgets

Remember those budgets you set at the start of this year? Now’s the time to see where you stand with your budget projections versus what you actually spent. If, for example, you still have money in your marketing budget, decide how you can spend what’s left in a way that will best help your company before the year closes out. If you’ve got a surplus, consider sharing the wealth with your staff as a holiday bonus, or spending it on a party to celebrate all their hard work throughout the year.

5. Get Your Tax Form Information Ready

Again, you’ll have to wait until the year’s up to file, print, and mail tax forms to your employees and contractors, but you can still get everything lined up. January 31 is the deadline for sending out W2 forms to your staff, so you won’t have much time to take care of them once 2015 rolls around.

Additionally, you should decide now whether you want to DIY your own business taxes or hire a tax professional to help you before the March 2015 deadline. If you’re a solopreneur, you may be able to handle doing your own taxes, but if you have a more complex business, it is worth it to get professional help.


How to Free Yourself from Ruts

12-11 Get out of a rut small“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This may have worked for a philosopher like Confucius, but let’s get real. Even if you own your own business, it’s rare that your professional life is so perfect that you never feel like you’re working. In fact, major ruts can be contagious. If they go on too long, they can even affect your entire team. Before you or anyone you work with decides to walk away, try these suggestions to regain your spirit.

Find Something Fun that Inspires You

At some point, all work and no play actually prevents you and your business from moving forward. Plus, sitting around pretending to work doesn’t do you any favors either. So, step back and have some fun. When was the last time you turned off your electronics and spent a week on your favorite ski slope or lazed around on a white sand beach? If you can’t release yourself from your business for any length of time, try baby steps. Go to a movie, read a novel for an hour every day or do some activity that completely takes business off of your mind. Absence makes the heart grow fonder — and the ideas come faster.

Go Back to Your Business Inspiration

What motivated you to start your business in the first place? Was it an urge to follow your passion, help the world with a brilliant invention or even do something better than your former employers did them?

You probably didn’t need five alarm clocks to get out of bed in the early days, so close your eyes and mentally travel back to that time. If you can recapture the spark that got your company off of the ground in the first place, you may even inspire your entire team, no extra alarm clocks needed.

Bring in Fresh Ideas

Business owners tend to count on themselves and a few other people to generate new ideas. But as years go by, those ideas are bound to become stale. Consider introducing other people who will (dare I say it?) think outside of the box and encourage your core team to do the same. Hiring an outside consultant may be a viable option, but you may not need to spend the money. You have any number of people who come to work every day with creative ideas. Why not invite them to your meetings? Or perhaps seek feedback from customers.  These new perspectives can bring some creativity and renewed spirit to your endeavors.

Get Out More

Looking at the same walls and talking to the same people day after day is a rut-waiting-to-happen. When the walls start closing in and stifling your creative flow, get out of there! Go to an industry meeting to educate and inspire you. Or, visit people in your professional network in their places of business. Seeing how they do things will help you gain a fresh perspective that can help you get re-excited about what you are doing.

Embrace Change

The notion of change is scary. It takes you out of your comfort zone, which basically is another name for “rut.” Change does not have to be huge; you don’t have to completely change the purpose of your business by replacing your widget product line with thingamabobs to liven things up.

Change does not even have to be permanent. If you delegate some of your daily activities to someone else, there’s nothing that says you can’t take it back … if you really miss doing it yourself. Still, initiating smatterings of change in your business can spur brainstorming throughout your organization. As new ideas arise, implementing them creates a flurry of activity and challenges for everyone involved. Ruts cannot survive in this type of atmosphere.

Since everyone has a different set of motivators, some of these ideas may work well for you, while others can be abysmal failures. No rut has to become a permanent way of life, so open your mind to any option that can ease you back on the road to a productive and happy future. Remember: if all else fails, there’s always chocolate!


Four Skills to Network More Powerfully

12-10 networking smallNot all of us are born networkers, so we have to work at improving the skill and it is a vital one. Fortunately, networking is a fundamental skill that you can develop with a little effort. You never know where your next referral will come from, so it behooves you to wear your networking hat whenever you are out in public. If you are an introvert, don’t worry or feel pressure to be “on” all the time. Just use these tips when you are ready to engage.

In order to be interesting, charm…

One of the greatest arts of interacting is being able to ask questions that encourage the speaker to open up. Of course, the point is not to be a therapist or get someone to let it all hang out, but to find questions that engage on a different level than just routine small talk. A charming question can encourage someone to reflect on a event in a whole new way.

At the next networking event you attend, ask open-ended questions that inspire a real conversation. Not only will you get people to open up, but you will also become more memorable and create a connection.

In order to be engaging, listen…

Have you ever been in a conversation at a meet and greet and had to tell someone the same information over and over again because they weren’t really listening to you? It is important to treat the person in front of you with respect and listen deeply to her words. You may be surprised at how conversations will unfold when you focus on listening instead of what you are going to say next.

People can tell when your mind is focused on their words or something else. Challenge yourself to listen with complete attention, especially when you feel distracted. If your distraction becomes too overwhelming, you can use that as a way to extend the interaction, saying, “I’d really like to talk to you more about that. May I have your card and contact you later, so that we can continue the conversation?” Now you’ve created an opportunity for future action.

In order to feel comfortable, help…

If you are concerned about feeling part of the crowd, offer to help. Most events are run on a shoestring and could use even more support. Consider the time you donate an investment in creating the community and use the opportunity to help as training to assist you in further developing your skills.

This is a great opportunity for introverts to feel involved with events, which can help you warm up to pull yourself off that wall and start mixing and mingling.

In order to feel confident, know…

Confidence goes a long way in helping humans feel more comfortable, so practice your pitch before you head out. Think of the questions you’re most likely to hear, which will help later when you’re approaching other people to make connections, and devise quick, succinct answers for them.

Networking isn’t about making a sale, it’s about making connections you can build over time. If they result in doing business, so much the better.


Don’t Avoid Failure, Just Fail Properly

12-5 Failure smallTruman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  However, based on the way that we learn as youngsters, the thought of failure may leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

In school, we were taught that failing something results in a red mark on the paper and perhaps a timeout with a dunce cap in the corner.  However, failure is a critical component of long-term success.  If you aren’t willing to take risks and try new things, you won’t be able to truly take your business to the next level.   

Remember, there are many hugely successful entrepreneurs that tried a few different things before hitting it big.

While it’s important to embrace failure, there are three things that you should know about the right way to fail.  You need to fail quickly, fail cheaply and never fail the same way twice.

Fail Quickly. While it’s important to try new things (and as the proverb goes, “try, try again”) investing a lifetime before achieving success amounts to a lifetime of lost years.

If you invest too much time in getting to the point of determining success or failure, it can be demoralizing.  It can also allow your competition to surpass you by leaps and bounds.

Set a reasonable time frame up front to decide how much time you need to assess whether you are on the right path.  If you don’t meet that time frame (or a revised time frame, based on achieving interim milestones), it’s time for a new strategy.

Also, knowing when to tweak, accept less or give up is a vital part of embarking on a new project or venture. Whenever you hit a bump, you need to reassess:

  • Are you seriously off-track or can you make adjustments to get back on the road?
  • Can you still succeed even if you don’t meet all of your original expectations?
  • If you have to spend more time or money to avoid failure, can you afford the extra expenditures while staying on top of your current business operations?
  • Or, is it time to walk away?

Remember that a lengthy failure robs you of other opportunities. Unless you can afford the opportunity cost, break lengthy, big risk ventures into smaller steps, or find other ways to realize failure sooner rather than later.

Fail Cheaply. Too many entrepreneurs start with a grand idea that has a grand budget attached to it.  However, investing too much money in one idea or path can create substantial setbacks if your first go-round doesn’t work.  It may deplete your funds to try again, or worse, impair your personal finances in a way that is detrimental to your long-term financial (and possibly mental) health. 

You don’t want to risk the farm on one idea, so keep the scope of your initial experiments affordable. Do you dream of becoming a restaurateur? Consider starting with a food truck. Are you determined to double your consulting clientele within a year? Retaining contract-to-hire consultants may reduce employment costs until your company’s growth is a certainty.

Failing cheaply allows you to recover more easily, both financially and emotionally, from any failures.

Never Fail the Same Way Twice. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results. Failure can teach lessons that you would not learn in any other way. However, when you don’t learn from those lessons, you can run your business into a downward spiral.

Let’s say that you left your production line at a standstill because you tried saving money by buying cheaper parts. Figure out exactly what went wrong. Saving money is a worthy goal, but not without properly vetting suppliers. Or, maybe the supplier offered higher grades than you chose. Higher-quality materials might still have saved you money. Learn exactly what failed and you will do better the next time.

Most importantly, take the time to truly understand the real reasons behind the failures, so that you don’t end up repeating them again.

Vision and time heal many wounds and can be the foundation for success. When a 3M scientist unintentionally developed a moderately-tacky adhesive rather than a stronger one, he failed at the assigned task. Years later, the use for that adhesive became apparent. The end product was Post-it® Notes —a virtual necessity in people’s lives now.

Don’t invest more to perpetuate a failure, but keep the experience in your mind. Some form of yesterday’s failure can become tomorrow’s triumph.


Does the “Internet of Things” Really Matter to Small Business?

12-4 the internet of things small

One of the biggest buzz words for this past year was “The Internet of Things” (IoT). This is the convergence of the digital and virtual world with the physical one. Even before IoT, there are already 16B devices attached to the Internet. (Remember, there are only 7B people on the planet.)

Today, an increasing number of wearable and home devices are being integrated to the Internet like Fitbits on the wrists, Nests in the home and crockpots in the kitchen. Oral B even has a toothbrush that is Bluetooth connected to the Internet to track brushing. More recently, Apple unveiled a HealthKit app that allows its iPhone users to track personal health and fitness data. They also announced HomeKit that will allow users to control “smart devices” in their home like garage doors, lights and security cameras.  The introduction of the Amazon Echo, an in-home personal assistant will definitely raise the profile of this category.

While Pew Research says IoT’s full implementation is still about 5 to 10 years away, a new study by Gartner predicts that entrepreneurs will drive the growth of IoT in the next five years. So where can small business owners start?

1.     Manufacturing at the beginning. Barbara Edson, General Manager of IoT at Microsoft says this sector will lead the way.  She believes it will happen through monitoring their equipment performance instantly and securely in real time. This will lead to better service to customers and an increased profit for the company.

2.     Analyzing big data. While IoT can be a big advantage in allowing sensors to track business assets, it will help analyze what the data really means and how it fits into the operation of the business. The key is to make the data received intelligent and actionable for a business. Used correctly, it will allow the measuring of key KPIs more easily and objectively.

3.     Enhancing the customer experience. With most things being a commodity, the customer experience is the future of marketing and loyalty. A company needs to use IoT to improve the experience for the customer. Intuitive and natural experiences from all devices can help make this happen.

4.     Focus on your things. Forget about the hype, Microsoft recommends to focus on IoT that are key to your business. Forget the hype of everything else.

How are you integrating IoT into your business for the future?


5 Funding Options for Small Businesses

12-3 Small biz funding smallWhen it comes to financing your small business, you need options that will help you grow your business. Sometimes you can’t do that when you bootstrap on your own. Whether you’re launching a business or ready to take an established business to the next level, you have options. Browse the following five funding options and see which one’s best for your biz.

1. Traditional Small Business Loan

Whether you need $5,000 or $100,000, a small business loan backed by the SBA might be what you’re looking for. You can apply for an SBA loan through your existing bank, or through other organizations that provide small business resources in your city. Some organizations cater to specific niches such as women and minorities (check out your local Women Business Development Center or the Minority Business Development Agency). Business loans have a lifespan of several years — typically you have five to seven years to pay the loan back at the agreed-upon interest rate and payment schedule.

2. Line of Credit

If you’ve been in business two years or more with positive cash flow, a line of credit could be what you need. This is an especially good option if you’re simply looking to have working capital available (so you can pay your vendors and staff while waiting for slow-paying clients to pay their invoices.) You can pull from the line of credit when you need the money, and can even use a debit card for transactions from that account. But be warned, interest accrues daily, so you won’t have years to pay it back. It’s a solid option if you need a cash injection now, and can repay it promptly.

3. Investors

Another financing option is to seek investment from venture capitalists or angel investors. In exchange for the cash, you’ll give up a percent of the ownership of your company. That can be a perk, since you’ll get the advice and insight of someone who knows your industry and can make suggestions for improvement, but that can also be a drawback if you like having total control over your business decisions.

If you go the investment route, position yourself to get a “yes” by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes. What would be appealing about your company? What makes it a strong financial investment?

4. Crowdfunding

Not only can crowdfunding get your cash flowing for expansion, but it can also help you attract new customers and rabid fans. Using sites like Kickstarter, you develop a crowdfunding campaign to tell your brand’s story as well as explain what you want the money for. The site will take a percent of what you raise, as long as you hit your target amount. (If you set your goal for $20,000 but only raise $18,000, you’ll get nothing).

A well-strategized crowdfunding campaign can result in everyday people supporting your company through donations. In return, you give them perks, such as early access to your product, samples, t-shirts, or interactions with your brand. That’s a small price to pay for such a great financial resource!

5. Credit Cards

While not ideal for funding a small business, credit cards do serve a purpose. For one, they’re easy to use and provide instant payment to your vendors or purchases you need to make. They can also help you build up credit under your business’ name. Do your homework. Make sure you use a credit card with great rewards or cash back on purchases. Just be wary of charging more than you can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Those credit card fees can rack up over time!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why the Holidays are a Great Time to Call Your Customers

12-2 making a phone call smallWhen you think about the holiday season, you probably think about family, fun and feasting. But did you ever stop to think that the holidays are also a great time to reach out and call your small business customers?

There are several reasons why now is an ideal time to contact customers by phone.

  • The holiday season is a time for celebrating relationships, and talking in person can help reinforce and cement your business relationships.
  • With many businesses short-staffed during the holidays, decision-makers who normally don’t answer the phone may be a lot easier to reach.
  • While rank-and-file workers typically take time off, C-level execs are more likely to be working, frequently coming in early or staying late to take advantage of the quiet office and uninterrupted time to focus.
  • At many companies, budgets need to be spent before the year ends, so there might be money available for projects you might normally have trouble selling.
  • Other companies are planning their budgets for next year, making now a good time to get on their radar.

So how can you make your “reach out and touch” customer calls successful? Try these four tips:

  1. Make a list. Use your CRM system or other customer data to identify potentially most lucrative customers. For example, you might check who purchased from you this time last year or whose fiscal year is about to end.
  2. Set a goal. Calling is a numbers game, so it’s important not to get discouraged. Set a goal to call a certain number of customers per day, and just power through.
  3. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t waste the customer’s time. Yes, small talk greases the wheels, especially this time of year, but people are also busy.
  4. It’s not all about the sale. These calls aren’t focused on making an immediate sale (though that would be nice), but on enhancing your relationship with the customer and finding new ways to serve him or her. Explore their needs for the coming year, what they’d like to do differently and how you can help them achieve their 2015 goals. Ending up with a firm commitment to talk in 2015 is a good start.

Why You Need a Google Alias Now

11-28 hiding behind a mask smallGoogle has become another social media tool that allows its Google Plus clients to use something other than their real name. These aliases or pseudonyms can be a nickname or just a series of letters. When Google launched their social tool a few years back, they wanted people to build a network based on people with real names. They recently ditched this idea in their terms of service in favor of a growing trend for any creative ID to act as a name similar to those used on Twitter and Youtube. However, there are limits to how many times a user can change their name in a given period of time.

If authenticity is so important online, why would a business person want to use an alias?

  1. Get greater separation between personal and online life. Despite popular practices, not everything should be shared online. Many business people have opinions that they want to post that should not be associated with their business (and for good reasons).
  2. Prevent stalkers. There are a lot of weird and predatory people surfing the Internet. An alias gives more privacy which is a difficult commodity in an Internet connected world. It provides a barrier to actually meeting these crazy people in real life. Any pseudonym can be deleted and recreated in a different form at any time.
  3. Prevents work colleagues on viewing personal work or opinions online. Personal views may conflict with business employees or customers. It allows this body of work new opinions posted under an alias not to be viewed through the filter of a real known person.
  4. Aliases bring a new start. Anyone can create an online alter ego. This can be an outlet for creativity and exploration. Different personas can also cover a variety of niche areas without conflict.

Be careful. There are drawbacks of an alias which include:

  1. Adds stress to life. Constantly mentally separating to be an alias can be time consuming. This is especially true if it becomes more popular than the real life version of the person.
  2. The temptation of less accountability. Hiding behind an alias will tempt many business people to say and do things that they would not with their real identities. This can cause real life regret. Caution should still be used because no one should assume that an alias will never be connected to the real person.
  3. More conflicts. People may be put off when they find you are the alias for a pseudonym that they despise. Steve Colbert says he is playing a character on The Colbert Report and has a difficult time being viewed as himself.
  4. Changing perceptions. Once an alias becomes well established, it's hard to transfer that online capital to a real person. When Amber Osborne wanted to come out from behind her alias "blue haired Miss Destructo " persona,  there were many challenges. Some people did not want to view her as anything else except her alias. Think about the stereotyping of actors for certain roles like William Shatner as the iconic Captain Kirk and James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

Have you created a personal alias separate from the business? What has been the results?




 
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